American composer Aaron Jay Kernis, born in 1960, has become a fixture of American concert halls with his absorbing symphonies and chamber works, Romantic but technically tough-minded. Here the listener gets something different and more intimate: Kernis song cycles that in at least one case are quite personal; all are distinguished by the range of poetry involved and the subtlety of the composer's response to them. Most remarkable, perhaps, is Valentines, written in memory of Kernis' teacher Jacob Druckman to texts by British poet Carol Ann Duffy and, more than other Kernis works, reflective of his approach. "Not a red rose or a satin heart." Duffy writes (heard in Valentines, track 6). "I give you an onion." Try it sometime for Valentine's Day! The mystical mood of the opening Simple Songs, for soprano and chamber group, builds up through a pair of psalm texts, a prayer of Hildegard of Bingen, a poem by the Japanese writer Ryokan, and Rumi in Robert Bly's well-known translation ("You are the notes, and we are the flute"). The two sets of Songs of Innocents are delightfully subtle settings of poems about childhood by various writers. The music on this disc was written for fabled singers: Renée Fleming in the case of Valentines, and Dawn Upshaw in that of the first book of Songs of Innocents. But soprano Susan Narucki, who has received the Kernis seal of approval, makes these songs her own and delivers precise, attractive performances. This little disc represents an ideal place to go next for the listener whose attention has been snared by Kernis and his larger works. All texts are given in English, but nothing in the booklet is translated.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Simple Songs, for soprano & piano|
|Valentines, for soprano & piano|
|Songs of Innocents, Book 1, for soprano & piano|
|Songs of Innocents, Book 2, for soprano & piano|